The Great Secret of True Comfort
It was on this day, May 25th, in 1823, that Dr. Archibald Alexander wrote to his ailing mother, rejoicing in her recent recovery, yet seeking also to console and comfort her in the last days of her old age. The language of his letter may seem rather formal—we attribute that to the times. That he loved his mother dearly is no less certain. But his counsel here is so apt and useful for all to profit from. Take it to heart!
Dr. Alexander to his Mother
Princeton, May 25, 1823.
My Dear Mother:—
“When I last saw you, it was very doubtful whether you would ever rise again from the bed to which you were confined. Indeed, considering your great age, it was not to be expected that you should entirely recover your usual health. I was much gratified to find that in the near prospect of eternity, your faith did not fail, but that you could look death in the face without dismay, and felt willing, if it were the will of God, to depart from this world of sorrow and disappointment. But it has pleased your Heavenly Father to continue you a little longer in the world. I regret to learn that you have endured much pain from a disease of your eyes, and that you have been less comfortable than formerly. Bodily affliction you must expect to endure as long as you continue in the world. ‘The days of our years are three-score and ten, and if by reason of strength they be four-score years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.’ But while your Heavenly Father continues you in this troublesome world, He will, I trust, enable you to be resigned and contented and patient under the manifold afflictions which are incident to old age.
“The great secret of true comfort lies in a single word, TRUST. Cast your burdens on the Lord, and He will sustain them. If your evidences of being in the favour of God are obscured, if you are doubtful of your acceptance with Him, still go directly to Him by faith; that is, trust in His mercy and in Christ’s merits. Rely simply on His word of promise. But not afraid to exercise confidence. There can be no deception in depending entirely on the Word of God. It is not presumption to trust in Him when He has commanded us to do so. We dishonour Him by our fearfulness and want of confidence. We thus call in question His faithfulness and His goodness. Whether your mind is comfortable or distressed, flee for refuge to the outstretched wings of his protection and mercy. There is all fulness in Him; there is all willingness to bestow what we need. He says, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee. My strength is made perfect in weakness. As thy day is so shall thy strength be. I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.’ Be not afraid of the pangs of death. Be not afraid that your Redeemer will then be afar off. Grace to die comfortably is not commonly given until the trial comes. Listen not to the tempter, when he endeavours to shake your faith, and destroy your comfort. Resist him, and he will flee from you. If you feel that you can trust your soul willingly and wholly to the hands of Christ, relying entirely on His merits; if you feel that you hate sin, and earnestly long to be delivered from its defilement; if you are willing to submit to the will of God, however much He may afflict you; then be not discouraged. These are not the marks of an enemy, but of a friend. My sincere prayer is, that your sun may set in serenity; that your latter end may be like that of the righteous; and that your remaining days, by the blessing of God’s providence and grace, may be rendered tolerable and even comfortable.
“It is not probable that we shall ever meet again in this world; and yet, as you have already seen one of your children go before you, you may possibly live to witness the departure of more of us. I feel that old age is creeping upon me. Whoever goes first, the rest must soon follow. May we all be ready! And may we all meet around the throne of God, where there is no separation for ever and ever! Amen!
“I remain your affectionate son,
Note: Dr. Alexander was born on April 17, 1772, and was 51 years old when he wrote this letter. He was the third of nine children born to his parents. Of those children, his sister Nancy died in childhood and seven of the siblings were still living in 1839. Dr. Alexander’s declining years began about 1840 and he died on October 22, 1851 at the age of 79. His mother died October 11, 1825.